You have 1440 minutes between right now and this time tomorrow. Only 1440 minutes. How will you use that time? One percent of that time is about 15 minutes. What, you ask, is so important about 15 minutes? It is a block of time that’s small enough to make room for and large enough to get something significant done.
My most important strategy to get more done every day is simply to always be ready. When you are ready, you have what you need when you need it. This means you can use “found time” productively to move your business forward.
I can hear you asking: “What is ‘found time'”? Have you ever been to a meeting that didn’t start when planned? Far too many meetings start several minutes late. When you are ready to use those “found” 15 minutes, you can effectively make a dent in all you need to get done each day.
For example, when I have magazine articles I want to read, I tear them out of my magazines and carry them with me for a day or two. Then when — not if — “found time” appears, I use it to read those articles. This helps me stay in touch with what’s happening in my industry, making me more effective with my clients.
In my experience, many people use “found time” to check their email. While this may seem productive at the moment, it doesn’t always move you forward on your long-term goals. When you really look at your goals, there are often tasks that would help “get you there” that take between 15 to 45 minutes to complete. Get clear about what tasks you can accomplish in 15 minute chunks. Then, always be ready with what you need to accomplish that task. You will immediately become more productive.
A good exercise is to make a list of 20 to 30 tasks you can accomplish in less than 15 minutes. I keep and update this list in Evernote all the time. This is not a list of to-dos, but rather the extras. Then set yourself up with the supplies or information you need to complete those tasks. Make sure the needed items are with you when you go to meetings, leave the office or otherwise suspect you might have a bit of extra time. By being ready, you can take advantage of these windows of opportunity.
One of my favorite uses of “found time” is to write thank you cards. Watching for people to acknowledge and thank also makes my day better. Plus, thank you notes touch people in a unique way. In fact, I write at least one thank you note each week. This means I send a minimum of 52 hand written — yes, always by hand — thank you notes a year.
Of course, I accomplish this by always having note cards, envelopes and stamps with me. When a meeting is late, I can quickly jot a note of thanks, pop it in the envelope and send it off. Expressing gratitude is a fabulous use of “found time.” Plus, saying “thank you” makes the recipient feel valued, sets you apart from the crowd and leaves you feeling good.
So my favorite strategy to being more productive is to always be ready. Take time to figure out how your day is likely to unfold and make sure you have the supplies you need with you. When you are always ready, you can truly get more done each day.
Jason W. Womack is founder of The Womack Company, a productivity-training firm based in Ojai, Calif. He is author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley, 2012).